No.1: First Works of 362 Artists is a book based on the premise that most artists have a piece they consider their true first painting. Editors Francesca Richer and Matthew Rosensweig attended a lecture by Robert Storr in conjunction with the Gerard Richter retrospective at MOMA in 2002. Richter had chosen to start the exhibition with a painting he did in 1962, Table (image above.) Although Richter had been painting for several years before this one emerged, this is the painting where Richter recognized himself as an artist for the first time.
In the same lecture Storr mentioned that Barnett Newman considered his painting Onement I as his true beginning even though it also showed up several years after he had been working. Richer and Rosensweig were curious enough to investigate this idea further.
They sent out a request to artists that was intentionally open-ended—a personal interpretation of what consititutes a first work. Some artists responded with images from childhood, others cited works that came later but were meaningful. Many had a piece they already considered their first.
The book consists of one image with a written statement by each artist. Some are recognizable names but not all. Reading each artist’s reason for choosing a particular work of art as their “first” is a window into how the vision of visual expression unfolds.
A few samples:
Cecily Brown: “This painting…was among the first paintings I made that weren’t embarrassed to be paintings.”
Jake Berthot: “You could say the Little Flag Painting art talk gibberish was a total misread of Jasper Johns—which it was—but the guts of it came from being really pissed off. It was the first time feeling and seeing became one.”
Sue Williams: “I was looking for a way of working, like a format for my words and drawings and collected images to come together. To make a work of art, I suppose. This was a frustrating time. An artist friend of mine told me “just keep trying things, and a door will open.” I said, “WHAT?” Also around this time I was impressed by a piece by Mike Kelley. it was an installation piece about insect eggs and seemed to go off the deep end. I thought this was very cool; you can do whatever you want. I didn’t know that.”
Rachel Whiteread: “As a postgraduate student at the Slade, I made a small work out of Sellotape. I suppose I was trying to create the skin of the table—an “occasional table” that had been in my family for years. The piece existed for only a few days. It was very fragile.
“Almost two years on, I made what I would consider my first “sculpture,” entitled Closet. It was cast directly from a wardrobe and covered in black felt; I was simply trying to make a childhood memory concrete. It changed my life.”
Tatsuo Miyajima: “My work focuses on the spirit of the user of technology, not on technology itself. People are always important. I am interested in art because it is born from people’s spirit. Art is in your mind. I call it “Art in You.” My work is equipment to look at your own self.”